Last Friday afternoon, I left work early to visit the newly opened Moses Mayhem Library of Sins of Omission. Originally, the library was supposed to be built downtown, but the rate of omissions doubles at such a rate that the builders determined that an expansive suburban campus would be required. Preceding the opening, the founders were often asked why such a library was a library at all. Why not build a massive online database? Every sinner could log in from their own device and discover their moral neglect. The founders countered with the view that sins tend to hold much less weight when published in pixels. Only the almighty printed word could bring about the heavy guilt they were after.
When I arrived at the library, the clerk looked my name up and printed out a map for me so I could find my records. The campus was truly massive. I must have taken five different underground trams before I got to my section. This place made the Atlanta International Airport seem like a cozy lake cabin.
I finally found my shelf. There were fourteen volumes with my name on them. Fourteen? Part of me was skeptical. How much more was I really expected to accomplish in life? How much of one’s life could reasonably be dedicated to good deeds? The other part of me was deeply fearful that my direction in life had been way off the mark. Had my choices produced any meaning? Were all my endeavors purposeless?
Reaching out for volume one, I could feel that it had never been opened. The binding cracked as I opened to the first page. I expected an excruciating list reminding me of all the times I neglected to call my grandparents, all the nonprofits I declined to start, all the money I never donated to those without access to housing or clean water.
Instead, the first few pages featured a romantic short story about a young man who studied abroad in Belize for a semester and ended up dating one of the other students in the program. The next few pages had a list of very familiar jokes. I realized these were silly jokes I had thought but never said aloud. The rest of the volume contained a novel that matched much of my current life except that I held my boss’ position and he held mine.
I set the first book down and flipped through all fourteen volumes. I couldn’t find a single negative, damning thing in any of them. Every page was filled with fun, exciting potentials. Weren’t these supposed to be sins? Didn’t the founders go on and on about the guilt they were attempting to arouse?
Maybe my records were an anomaly. I quickly approached the nearest person reading through their own volumes. She had a broad smile on her face. “You too?” I asked. “Yes yes, oh I’m so relieved…encouraged even.” The next dozen people I approached all confirmed the same thing—their records were filled with inspiring, guilt-free, well-written narratives of things they could have lived. Each volume was filled with exciting alternate realities. The library founders had played an unexpectedly marvelous joke on the populous. Each visitor’s dread and anxiety were quickly replaced with confidence and anticipation.
I returned to my volumes and read a little more. You couldn’t check out any books from this library, but I knew I would be returning often to get lost in what my world might be.
As I left the library, some of me wondered why reading my volumes was so uplifting. Certainly, even reading positive could-have-beens can be discouraging. Why weren’t any of us visitors downcast or disappointed? I decided that it must be the tone of the volumes. These documented “sins of omission” held no illusions of personal responsibility, only the joys and particulars of intimate possibilities.